Fiction  > Avant Garde

Leaving Richard's Valley

Leaving Richard's Valley Leaving Richard's Valley Leaving Richard's Valley

Leaving Richard's Valley back

Michael DeForge


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Have you ever thought that maybe the valley isn't just a place... it's more like an idea..."

The master of the disparately absurd returns with his most coherently straightforward work yet.

Haha, you didn't believe that for a second did you? Just as well! Here is a succinct, sensible summary of DeForge's latest dene of disastrous daft from the publisher...

"Richard is a benevolent but tough leader who oversees everything that happens in the valley. When Lyle the Raccoon becomes sick, his ragtag group of friends take matters into their own hands, breaking Richard's strict rules. Caroline Frog rats them out to Richard and they are immediately exiled from the only world they've ever known.

DeForge's tale expands from a bizarre hero's quest into something more: they make it out of the valley and into the big city, and we see them coming to terms with different kinds of community: noise-rockers, gentrification protesters, squatters, and more."

Richard is a dick, and not just in the diminutive sense. That's not a spoiler, by the way... you'll certainly pick that up pretty quickly for yourselves. Quicker than Lyle and his chums, I'm sure. But when the penny finally drops they certainly throw themselves into their exiled existence with a newfound zest for life. Amazing what getting out from under the opposable thumbs of a domineering despot can do for your self-esteem...

I should probably make clear at this point that Richard is the only human in the valley. The fact that he's decided to sequester himself away in the middle of a park smack bang in the centre of Toronto to lord it over the wildlife possibly hints at why he isn't ideal leadership material... As Lyle and company manage to start making a go of it in the big city, Richard's regime, and mental health, inevitably begin to crumble and then collapse apace in tragic tandem.

I'll possibly have to retract my opening statement to mention that this is, in some senses, DeForge's least surreal tale, talking animals musing the meaning of life and escape from the clutches of cultdom aside... The strict four-panel-per-page format and askew life lessons put me slightly in mind of PEANUTS, which frankly is a suitably totally ridiculous comparison. This is more like a comedic, satirical, warped version of Ander Nilsen's BIG QUESTIONS. With extra added odd.

In DeForge terms, this is closest in feel to STICKS ANGELICA, FOLK HERO, which actually would be my opening gambit for someone new wanting to give him a try. Or possibly the equally preposterous and indeed hilarious BRAT. This chunky tome is more one for DeForge aficionados as I suspect it would definitely be over-long for someone brand new to his work.

Art-wise it was a slight surprise to see only black and white after all his recent vibrant colour works. I have seen him employ black and white for the odd much shorter strip, but I've always personally felt his whacky colour palette only added to his artistic charms. Well, this is monochrome technically, just about, rather than black and white, but still, for such a long work it was possibly a very prudent decision in time terms if nothing else! Surreal he may be, silly he is not.